Rochester Institute of Technology has a winning formula for mathematics outreach and is poised to expand it into a national model with a $120,000 grant from the Toyota USA Foundation, a charitable endowment supporting K-12 math and science education.
RIT’s Summer Mathematics Institute Teachers’ Workshop puts high school math in context for secondary-school teachers. It reinforces the critical foundation high school mathematics gives students for excelling in college-level math courses and pursuing careers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines.
The simple model works: Mathematicians from all sectors share their individual stories with the high school educators. The speakers—students, faculty, alumni and others from various fields—illustrate different ways they apply math to solving real-world problems, from bolstering computer security and counter-terrorism measures to analyzing brain trauma data for the National Football League, to designing better contact lenses.
The success of the program follows an indirect course and inspires high school students through their teachers. Prior to the workshop, participating educators work with their university counterparts at RIT to pinpoint questions and issues they have in teaching math to their students.
“After six years, we feel that we have the pattern down and this works,” says David Ross professor of mathematics and director of RIT’s Summer Mathematics Institute. “We’re turning this into a national program on the model of Google’s CS4HS (Computer Science for High School).”
Toyota will support the 2014 workshop at RIT with $20,000 and fund the now Toyota-branded math workshop at three universities. RIT will hold an application process and a committee from the School of Mathematical Sciences will pick the universities to receive $20,000 each to run the workshops. The $40,000 remaining balance will cover costs associated with administrating the program.
Ross and Birgit Coffey, lecturer in the School of Mathematical Sciences, will help organize the new workshops and RIT’s annual event.
“So far we’ve run the workshops on $10,000 or less per year, so this is a huge increase in our budget,” Ross says. “We expect to be able to bring in more speakers, and perhaps participants, from afar, to bring in some big-name speakers and, generally, to make the events better.”
Ross credits RIT College of Science Dean Sophia Maggelakis for starting the professional-development workshops for high school educators and wanting to share the program with other universities.
“The whole idea was Sophia’s,” he says.
Maggelakis, a mathematician herself whose winning proposal will expand RIT’s influence, is a proponent of creative outreach efforts to inspire the next generation of mathematicians and scientists.
“This grant from the Toyota Foundation will help us expand our Summer Mathematics Institute, which addresses national educational issues in mathematical sciences and provides feasible solutions,” Maggelakis says. “It supports our mission to be part of the national effort to develop citizenry literate in the mathematical sciences and who appreciate the usefulness of mathematics as the basis of all science, technology, engineering, and almost every technical competence in the marketplace.”